06.04.02, 12:48 PM #1
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Congress opens 9/11 investigation
CIA Director George Tenet, left, and FBI Director Robert Mueller
June 4 -- Former CIA Chief James Woolsey says intelligence known before Sept. 11 could have made a difference in preventing the attacks. NBC's Lisa Myers reports about the new scrutiny of the CIA and FBI.
NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES
WASHINGTON, June 4 — Seeking to “improve the system,” Congress on Tuesday began what promises to be a lengthy examination of U.S. intelligence shortcomings in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. Shortly before the hearings began, President Bush acknowledged that the CIA and FBI failed to communicate adequately with one another about possible clues that a terrorist attack was being planned, but he said there’s no evidence officials could have averted the attacks even with better cooperation.
June 4 — Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla, explains what he hopes to see from the hearings into how the performance of the U.S. intelligence community.
MEMBERS OF A joint House-Senate intelligence committee filed into soundproofed, secure rooms at the Capitol at midafternoon to begin looking into why the intelligence community overlooked clues that terrorist attacks were being planned and didn’t always share information.
The first hearing was to be devoted to examination of internal FBI and CIA documents and developing a list of witnesses who will be called to testify at future hearings.
Before the hearing opened, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., co-chairman of the joint committee, charged that FBI and CIA officials have been engaging in infighting and finger-pointing through a series of leaks to news organizations, an unseemly display that he compared to a “children’s playground fight.” He called on officials of both agencies to “act like adults” as Congress tries to determine what went wrong and ensure that the problems are corrected.
EFFORT TO PROMOTE COOPERATION
Earlier, Graham’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Porter Goss, R.-Fla., said that a key goal of the hearings is to get federal and local authorities to “work better together.” At the federal level, he added, that’s not just the FBI and CIA, headed by Robert Mueller and George Tenet, respectively, but others like Customs, Immigration and the Federal Aviation Administration.
WashPost: 'Final exam' for FBI, CIA
Goss said Tuesday’s hearing would be held behind closed doors because lawmakers had to sort through “clandestine sources” and “classified materials.” Lawmakers hope to reveal more to the public as the investigation goes on, he added.
A voluminous amount of material was being assembled for the hearing. Sources told NBC News that 15 full-time CIA officials were dedicated to the hearings and have already turned over more than 400,000 pages of information.
Among other things, the lawmakers will be attempting to determine why the FBI failed to connect the arrest of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, in Minneapolis to the warnings of a Phoenix field agent that followers of Osama bin Laden could be training at American flight schools.
FOCUS SHIFTS TO CIA
But a report by Newsweek magazine on Monday that the CIA failed for months to alert the FBI that two suspected terrorists who participated in the attacks were in the United States ensured that the hearings would be broadened to scrutinize the actions of both agencies.
Newsweek reported that the CIA tracked two suspected terrorists — Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi — to an al-Qaida summit in Malaysia in January 2000, then looked the other way as the two men re-entered the United States and began preparations for the Sept. 11 attacks, in which more than 3,000 people were killed. The Newsweek report said the CIA didn’t inform the FBI or the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS could have denied the men entry into the United States, or the FBI could have monitored them while they were in the country.
CIA officials on Monday challenged the account, saying FBI agents were briefed as the Malaysia meeting was taking place.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also will hold hearings focusing on the FBI, including whether new FBI guidelines lifting prohibitions on certain types of domestic spying could violate civil rights.
During a public hearing on Thursday, the committee is expected to hear from former FBI Director Louis Freeh and whistleblower Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis FBI agent who has charged that bureau headquarters mishandled the Moussaoui investigation.
BUSH: COMMUNICATION WAS LACKING
Before Tuesday’s hearings began, Bush said that recent revelations made it clear that the two agencies weren’t adequately sharing information.
“In terms of whether the FBI and CIA communicated properly, I think it’s clear that they weren’t, and now we’re addressing that issue,” the president said during a tour of the top-secret National Security Agency.
Bush added: “I see no evidence today that said this country could have prevented the attacks,” even with better cooperation between the FBI and the CIA.
Bush renewed his support for the intelligence committees’ investigation but again objected to calls in Congress for a separate, independent inquiry, saying that could hinder efforts to prevent future terrorist strikes and jeopardize U.S. intelligence sources.
On the eve of Tuesday’s hearings, a CIA official acknowledged that both the CIA and FBI knew as early as January 2000 that Almihdhar, one of the eventual Sept. 11 hijackers, would be attending a meeting of suspected al-Qaida members.
Challenging an account that the CIA had withheld the information, the official told NBC News that the agency had notified the FBI that Almihdhar, a suspected Sept. 11 hijacker, had a multiple-entry visa on Jan. 5, 2000, the night before Almihdhar arrived for the meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
The CIA official called the FBI an “archivally challenged agency” for its inability to find the CIA cables sent in January 2000. Reading extensively from cables and references to interagency phone calls from the CIA to the FBI, and from internal records memorializing such communications, the CIA official said the FBI was fully informed of the meeting, the reasons behind it and — perhaps most significantly — the information related to the multiple-entry visa.
The CIA official noted that his agency was “not blameless” in this matter, but insisted there was “shared responsibility” for the failure of the intelligence and law enforcement community to place Almihdhar on the State Department’s terrorist watch list. “Either one of us could nominate someone for the watch list,” the CIA official said. “Neither of us did.”
CIA DENIES EGYPTIAN TIP
In another development, the CIA on Tuesday flatly denied that Egypt had warned the United States of an al-Qaida plot shortly before Sept. 11. In the unusual public statement, the CIA through a spokesman said, “We categorically did not receive such a warning.”
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the New York Times that his government had passed along information a week before Sept. 11 that the United States would be targeted. But he added that his sources had no idea as to how big the attack would be. “We thought it was an embassy, an airplane, something, the usual thing,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. To discover after the event that the terrorists were going to take airplanes and destroy buildings, “That is unbelievable,” he added.
The CIA said there had been vague alerts from Egypt earlier in the year about al-Qaida activity, but none mentioned airplanes, hijackers or a target within the United States. None was received in the period immediately before Sept. 11, the spokesman said.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Pete Williams and Robert Windrem and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
06.04.02, 01:03 PM #2
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Good, I hope they will get to the bottom of this and find out that it was just a bunch of bungling government agencies not working together and not some grande plot by our elected leaders to start a war. Oh, and I hope they fix the problems with the bungling agencies, too!
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